Iran is as clean-looking as any country in Europe, which comes as a surprise to many visitors. Images of a war-torn country and repressed people were set aside as we left the Tehran airport behind. Clean roads, well-maintained buildings and bustling market places were all indications of a country on the move and a photographer’s delight. Our trepidations about the people and whether they would be open towards a bunch of women journalists also vanished in the face of their friendliness and warmth. Our trip, organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), to this West Asian nation, which manages to remain in news for one reason or the other, had certainly begun on a favourable note.

Iran is a mountainous country, located in southwest Asia. It shares its border with ten other countries. The country is famous for saffron, carpets, pistachios, fruits and is known for its ethnicity.

Iran was formerly called Persia. After the Islamic Revolution of 1035 it came to be called by both the names ~ Iran and Persia. Before Iran came to existence it was called Aryana. In ancient times Paras was the residence of a branch of the Aryans. In the Vedic era, all the land, from Paras to the banks of the Ganges and Saryu, was Aryan land, which was divided in many regions.

Just as the region around Punjab in India was called Aryavarta, similarly in ancient Paras, the eastern region adjoining modern Afghanistan was called Aryan or Ariyan (Greek Ariana), which later formed the word Iran.

The capital, Tehran, is a metropolis located at the southern foot of the Labarz Mountains. Along with Tehran, cities like Isfahan and Shiraz connect modern buildings with important sites from the past and are major centers of education and culture.

Tehran is very beautiful. The Golestan Palace built here dates back to the Qazar dynasty. The marble throne here was once the seat of the Qazar dynasty. The National Jewellery Museum is a storehouse of jewels from many of the Qazar kings, while the National Museum of Iran has artefacts from the Paleolithic period. The highest tower in the world the Milad Tower is in Tehran.

Shiraz is almost 4,000 years old. It is known as a city of poets, literature, wine (despite Iran being an Islamic republic) and flowers. Shiraz is the fifth most populous city in Iran and the Capital of Farz Province. Hafaz’s marble mausoleum was built in memory of the Persian poet Hafiz. The Vakil Mosque, built in the 18th century has a majestic appearance. The wonderful sculpture of flowers on its columns and tiles is worth seeing. If you go to Shiraz then definitely visit the Vakil Bazaar. Here you can buy handicrafts, spices and carpets.

Persepolis means Persian City. It exemplifies the Archamenid style of architecture. In 1979, UNESCO declared the remains of Persepolis as a World Heritage Site. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a traditional mosque in Shiraz.

Sadi’s tomb is one of the most visited tourist places of Shiraz city. Sadi is one of the great Iranian poets. A blue dome covers his grave. Inside the mausoleum verses of Sadi’s poems are inscribed on the walls.

Anyone looking at the Shah Chirag mosque will not be able to take off one’s eyes. The inside of the mosque is covered with glittering stones and glass, which makes this place spiritually and structurally magical.

Another place of interest is Karim Khan Citadel, located near Shohda Square. The citadel has four walls, each 12 metres high, attached to four circular brick towers. It has three floors. There are two rooms on each floor, one used by soldiers to rest and the other to keep weapons.

All too soon it was time for us to pack up and return home with a bag full of memories.